Agenda item

Members' Open Questions

A 45-minute period in which members may ask questions of the Leader, Cabinet Members, the Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen of the Overview and Scrutiny Committees and opposition group leaders excluding the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Planning Committee, Licensing and Alcohol, Entertainment and Late Night Refreshment Licensing Committees and Governance and Audit Committee.


Question 1 – Councillor Virginia Moran to the Cabinet Member for Finance and Leisure


Councillor Moran asked for an update on the current position regarding the lease at the Deepings Leisure Centre. The fire escape issued seemed to have been resolved but clarification was sought as to what other issues were preventing the lease from being signed and what, or who, was delaying these matters being settled. Councillor Moran also asked, once the lease was signed, what the estimated timescale would be for the lease to be submitted to the Department for Education.


The Chairman of the Council clarified there was provision for one question per Councillor as part of the Members’ open questions item.


The Cabinet Member for Finance and Leisure reported that negotiations were continuing between the Council and the School Trust. There were two issues currently unresolved, and the Council was working with the School with regard to the number of car parking spaces being made available on the site as well as confirmation of the demolition costs associated with any future works which may occur, the details of which needed to be included within the lease. Things were progressing and moving forward. The Council was still in discussions and it was hoped these would be resolved as soon as possible.


Question 2 – Councillor Ray Wootten to the Cabinet Member for Housing and Property


Councillor Wootten had recently visited the Riverside complex in Grantham with the Council’s Housing Team where it was made clear there had been complaints of drug dealing, vehicle crime and anti-social behaviour in and around the area which had previously been reported. Councillor Wootten asked the Cabinet Member whether they had considered applying for a grant from the Safer Streets Fund which enabled neighbourhood crime to be dealt with by extending the use of CCTV.


The Cabinet Member for Housing and Property sympathised with some of the residents at the Riverside who were enduring this anti-social behaviour. Residents who witnessed anti-social behaviour were encouraged to report any suspicious activities in their locality to the Police, who had provided additional support through their attendance at meetings. The recording of incidents would assist in securing CCTV in the area which was not necessarily the answer but would act as a good deterrent.


The Cabinet Member confirmed that the Council, as a landlord, would not hesitate to take appropriate action against any breaches of tenancy and would manage this in association with the Police and other agencies.


The Council had a strong record for applying for and receiving grant funding to support the delivery of its services and the Cabinet Member was pleased to confirm that Officers were exploring the initiative referred to in Councillor Wootten’s question, as well as through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.


Question 3 – Councillor Ian Selby to the Leader of the Council


The print room at the Council had been a marvellous in-house asset for many years. Councillor Selby asked what would happen to the printing equipment when the Council moved into the offices above the new cinema complex and what the future held for this in-house service.


The Leader of the Council confirmed the Council did currently host print room facilities in its existing accommodation, however, some of the equipment was now old and had been well used over the years. As the Council moved towards a paperless way of working the use of the in-house facility would continue to reduce. Some of the equipment would be moved to the new office accommodation with an in-house function being retained. However, it may be more cost effective in some cases to support local businesses in the supply of printing and related consumables.


Question 4 – Councillor Amanda Wheeler to the Leader of the Council


Councillor Wheeler placed on record her congratulations to the Council’s Waste and Recycling Team for continuing with collection rounds and the Housing Team for their support to rough sleepers during the record temperatures experienced recently.


Councillor Wheeler was interested in the impact the recent high temperatures had on South Kesteven’s towns and villages and how many acres of field were burnt across the district. With extreme temperatures becoming more frequent, she asked whether the Council was looking at producing climate risk assessments for the district in the same way that flood and fire risk assessments were undertaken. She also asked whether there were any plans to increase the £20,000 allocated in this year’s budget for climate change.


The Leader of the Council explained the allocation of £20,000 in the budget was to be used to facilitate the Climate Change Working Group in reviewing what the Council did itself both within the organisation and across the district. The Group could then submit bids into the Council which would come before Members for debate prior to allocating any further funding towards climate change initiatives.


The Leader had been dealing with some of the fires that had broken out in his ward, as other Members had, and agreed the Council needed to do more, recognising the climate emergency was still in place.


The Chairman of the Council clarified there was provision for one question per Councillor as part of the Members’ open questions item and was satisfied that the answer provided was sufficient.


Question 5 – Councillor Barry Dobson to the Cabinet Member for Planning and Planning Policy


Councillor Dobson asked for an update on the application for the solar farm at Mallard Pass.


The Cabinet Member for Planning and Planning Policy reported the statutory consultation in relation to the application concluded on 4 August 2022. A draft statement of common ground would subsequently be drawn up and this would identify those matters agreed between the Local Authority and the developer together with those which would be the subject of further negotiation.


In Spring 2023 the preparation and submission of a local impact report would be undertaken. This would provide details of the likely impact of the development on the district and be used as a means of the Local Authority being able to draw upon its local knowledge and evidence which would be reported to the Planning Inspectorate.


Written representation would also take place in Spring 2023 and this would be the most appropriate document for a Local Authority to register its views on the application, particularly in respect of whether it supported or objected to the application.


The developer was currently consulting on the technical information contained within the environmental information report, representing the preliminary findings of the Environmental Impact Assessment.


By responding and providing comments to the Environmental Impact Assessment the Council was not committing to any future position it wished to take regarding supporting or objecting to the proposed development. The Cabinet Member provided assurance that an application as major and important as Mallard Pass would be debated and deliberated by all Members of the Council.


Question 6 – Councillor Hannah Westropp to the Leader of the Council


Councillor Westropp asked for an update on St Martin’s Park at Stamford.


The Leader of the Council had been onsite two weeks ago to observe the demolition works which were well underway and on track for delivery within the targeted timescales. Fantastic progress was being made and this would regenerate and support business growth in the south of the district.


Question 7 – Councillor Ben Green to the Leader of the Council


Councillor Green asked, with the importance of food security and in representing a rural ward himself, whether the Leader agreed with him that it was vital for residents to respond to the Mallard Pass Solar Farm consultation.


The Leader of the Council agreed and took this opportunity to pay tribute to Sue Holloway and her team on the Mallard Pass Action Group. He strongly encouraged anyone to respond and recognised there was significant community objection to this application.


Question 8 – Councillor Jan Hansen to the Leader of the Council


Councillor Hansen expressed difficulties experienced in obtaining important information and asked for an update regarding Toll Cottage.


The Leader of the Council was aware of the issue at Toll Cottage which represented a decision taken by the Council’s Planning Committee a number of years ago. The Leader had seen email exchanges between senior officers of the Council and Councillor Hansen and would welcome the opportunity to meet with the Councillor and Officers to discuss the matter further.


It was reported the Council was waiting for court dates and there had been exceptional challenges with the court system in dealing with Toll Cottage and the disposal of that asset.


Question 9 – Councillor Richard Cleaver to the Cabinet Member for Housing and Property


Councillor Richard Cleaver referred to a very serious fire on Edward Road in Stamford last week involving eight cars. He asked the Cabinet Member to provide an update on the effects this incident had on tenants, their homes and any progress to date in respect of any necessary repairs.


The Cabinet Member for Housing and Property invited the Director of Housing and Property to provide an update.


The Director of Housing and Property reported that a fire had occurred close to Council-owned properties on Edward Road in Stamford. Officers attended the site as soon as they had been made aware, however, could not immediately access the properties due to the initial ongoing fire investigation. Once Officers were allowed to enter properties the Housing Team engaged with all residents who were present and offered advice and assistance. No decampments were required and there were no injuries. The Council’s Technical Services Team were also onsite to assess the damage and undertake any immediate repairs required, as well as make the properties safe and secure.


The Council did need to go through a process in terms of reviewing the insurance claim in respect of some of the damage that had been caused, particularly to the tarmacked area which would require extensive works. These works had been assessed and could be ordered and progressed.


Question 10 – Councillor Philip Knowles to the Cabinet Member for Waste and Climate Change


Councillor Knowles referred to the procurement of the Council’s Grounds Maintenance contract. Councillor Knowles asked whether the separate functions of the works included as part of the existing contract could be reviewed and potentially procured separately, as well as there being a regional consideration to the works given the different makeup of rural villages and urban towns.


The Cabinet Member for Waste and Climate Change reported the Council had recently undertaken an audit of the areas included as part of the current grounds maintenance contract. There were over 2,600 individual pieces of grassland across the district the Council was responsible for. Each had been accurately measured with all the data inputted into a geographic information system. As a result, a new specification for the contract, based on the information collated as part of the audit, had been developed.


It was on the basis of this new specification that a report was presented to a joint meeting of the Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee and the Rural and Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee which reviewed the options available for procuring a new contract for the Council’s grounds maintenance contract. Three options were set out in the report for the future delivery of the contract:


-       EnvironmentSK Limited be invited to bid to continue delivery of the contract in accordance with the revised specification

-       The revised specification goes out to the market with external providers being invited to bid for the contract

-       The contract be delivered in-house


The Cabinet Member reported this process had provided an opportunity to review the specification of the contract, including some of the rounds undertaken. Corby Glen was cited as an example whereby the current contract consisted of 24 visits a year, fourteen times to cut parts of the grass in the village to the Housing Revenue Account standard and an additional ten times to cut the remaining grass to the General Fund standard, which were different. This was a duplication of work. As part of the process a route review had been undertaken to establish the most efficient routes, together with a standardisation of the service provided.


The points raised as part of the question would be considered as part of the work that was being undertaken around looking at which of the options would be taken forward.


Question 11 – Councillor Ashley Baxter to the Chairman of the Companies Committee


Councillor Baxter referred to the ongoing loss-making facing EnvironmentSK Limited and Gravitas Limited, together with the winding up of InvestSK Limited with very little scrutiny of the £3 million investment over the last three years. The Chairman of the Companies Committee was asked why, without consultation, they had decided to cancel rather than postpone the July meeting of the Companies Committee.


A Point of Order was raised as the Chairman of the Companies Committee was not on the list of those Councillors to whom questions could be put during the Members’ open question item. The Chairman of the Council ruled the question out of order on that basis.


Question 12 – Councillor Kaffy Rice-Oxley to the Cabinet Member for Planning and Planning Policy


Councillor Rice-Oxley thanked the Cabinet Member for Planning and Planning Policy and Planning Officers for their assistance regarding some issues relating to Poplar Farm in the Arnoldfield Ward and asked for an update on the completion of the play area as it was now many months overdue.


The Cabinet Member for Planning and Planning Policy reported there needed to be some finishing touches to the equipment and the groundworks, including completing the turf and grass matting prior to it being opened. The Council would continue to pursue the developer to address this issue as soon as possible and the Council’s Enforcement Team would be visiting the site on 26 July.


Question 13 – Councillor Kelham Cooke to the Leader of the Alliance SK Group


Councillor Cooke referred to the Local Government Association’s recent ‘Debate Not Hate’ campaign, highlighting that debating and disagreeing with one another was a healthy part of democracy but abuse and intimidation crossed the line into dangerous territory.


The Leader of the Alliance SK Group was asked whether they would be willing to join the Leader of the Council and the Leader of the Opposition in signing this public statement.


Councillor Baxter asked Councillor Cooke to send him the relevant information which he would read and consider in due course, emphasising that he was against hate and intimidation having been a victim of it in the past.